The 4th of July

robert-frank-untitled-children-with-sparklers-in-provincetownTonight, I stood on the sandy shore of Lake Hartwell with an old friend. Across the water, fireworks shot into the sky from the Clemson YMCA. Now National Champions, Clemson’s fireworks were fancier than ever – some exploded into the letters “U.S.A.”, others turned into blue stars.

We stood beside tiki torches and all around us swirled what seemed like a dozens of children, all of them holding sparklers. The magnesium glowed red, gold, and blue, occasionally sputtering into large silvery sparks. We were well aware that third degree burns were one stumble away, but it was all too beautiful to take objection.

My friend is a wise woman, possessor of many unique, far flung experiences, and her perspective is always of great interest to me. As we watched the fireworks (USA, USA), I asked her, “So what do you think of America these days?” “America,” she said, “just needs to chill out.”

I then asked her, “Are you still glad you left Facebook?”

“Happiest days of my life,” she replied. She then said that we’ve become trapped in the echo chamber of social media, everything becoming louder and angrier and more divided. Adding, “I think we are better off if we live in our own small worlds. We can do a lot more good. And realize that things aren’t as bad as they seem.”

No doubt the fireworks and the lake and the sparkler-holding children contributed to the effect, but her words hit me hard. Facebook has become an increasingly toxic place. For years I was immune to it. People would talk about the time suck, the negativity that comes from comparison, and while I understood their points I didn’t suffer from the symptoms myself. Facebook has done a lot of good for me– especially when it comes to promoting comedy shows.

Since the election, I’ve found social media a tough place to be. To say I am anti-Trump would be an understatement–which is part of why I find the Left’s response so frustrating. The hegemony of leftist political correctness is abhorrent to me. The Left reminds me of a freshman in film school, or any other artistic discipline. Freshmen do not know how to take a note. You criticize their project and their ego falls apart. By the time they are seniors, any good creative will know how to take a note like a professional. This quality–the ability to take a note–is a trait I hold in the highest regard. On Facebook these days, hardly anyone knows how to take a note.

For what it’s worth, and granted this is a sweeping generality, but I think conservatives tend to take notes differently than liberals. For liberals, politics are personal. Like the freshman art student, when their politics are attacked, they feel personally attacked. It is immature and exhausting to witness the fragility of the ego involved. Conservatives – again, just my opinion – tend to receive political attacks with a smug sort of superiority. They’re deeply confident in their own ideas, and just don’t care that much about the opinions of others. They have a force field that deflects inquiry with stunning effectiveness. And no, in case you were wondering, I do not think highly of either Leftists or Right Wingers. I feel for the silent majority, the moderates who are willing to embrace complexity and shades of grey in their world view. Rarely in history have they been as silent as they are now.

Because all conversation stops before it begins, there is no point in dialogue. On Facebook, anyway. In person, in face-to-face conversation, I believe we function very differently. We are still people when we are in the world. Which takes me back to what my friend had to say–“I think we are better off if we live in our own small worlds. We can do a lot more good. And realize that things aren’t as bad as they seem.”

 

Trump

When I first moved to LA, I was prejudiced against the Hispanic community. I was 18 and stupid, and I am not even sure exactly what the heart of my racism was, other than just a vague sort of discomfort about “the other.” I remember coming home for Christmas and complaining about hearing so much Spanish. My dad let me know just how wrong I was to have such a complaint. By the time I graduated, I’d forgotten my bias and my first job out of college was working at an equestrian center. I was the only white woman in a large, all male, all Hispanic workforce. They treated me with respect. They treated me like family. We bartered for lunch – I’d bring coca-cola and they’d serve me carnitas cooked over a little grill in an unused horse stall. To this day, the best lunches of my life and the best job I ever had.
Years later, in North Carolina, I went to a religious conference as a representative of my church. We had round table discussions. I sat at a table of about 12 people, all white, all wealthy. The last question of the day was, “Discuss the challenges of the growing Hispanic population.” I was all set to talk about how great it was to have these bi-cultural churches. To my naive shock, what I heard instead were endless complaints and some examples of outright racism. Adrenaline flooded my body, my heart raced. I was the last to speak. I talked about my experiences in Los Angeles and I started to cry. I didn’t tell them what I thought about what they had said, I just told them how I’d been treated by the Hispanic community. And cried. The session ended for the day and several of the people came up to me and told me they weren’t racist. Some of them grabbed my hand while they did it, like I was a priest who could absolve them of their sins.
 
Right now, I feel the same way as I did sitting at that round table as I watch our country embrace a man who has said far worse things about Mexicans than what I heard at that church conference. A man who is running on bigotry as policy. A man whose security has escorted out peaceful Muslims, Blacks, and Hispanics from his rallies. A man who has retweeted white supremacists.
 
It is easy to veer toward racism if you don’t have people like my father in your life to set you straight. And I’d suggest that everyone is racist to a degree. But we must constantly strive toward the better angels of our nature. Trump appeals to the worst of us, to our fears and our greed. But here is the thing, my friends – with Trump, you do not know which way the ball will bounce. Are you a creationist? An atheist? Any shade of brown? Do you homeschool? Pro-life or pro-choice? Does your company work with Central or Latin America? Do not assume you’re safe from fascism just because you’re not Black or brown. Will you be the one escorted from rallies for what you believe? Trust me when I tell you – you do not know who will be safe and who will not, for expediency is the currency in which Trump deals, and in only that is he truly wealthy.

The Exodus

The first time I rode Johnny. His mane was long, he was underweight, but he was already awesome - truly, the best horse I ever rode.

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” – Lao Tzu

Everybody is gone or going.

Not literally everybody, of course. But it feels that way. For me, 2012 and 2013 represent a high water mark of connectedness. In 2012, my family of Clemson friends was very intact and a good thing, too, because that’s when I needed them the most. So many people were there for me. One of the friends I relied on most heavily, Dinger, left for New Hampshire in 2013. Another one of those friends, Brenden, is about to move to Denver. His wife, Kate, instantly became one of my favorite people. My traveling compadres Alrinthea and Lisa, moved to Greenville and Chattanooga, respectively. Odd though it may seem to those on the outside, my frequent breakfast buddy Evan is on to new adventures, too. Sean went to Charlotte. The list goes on.

In 2013, I met a whole new crew of friends, the comedians. On the plus side, I enjoyed them thoroughly while they were here, but they’ve fled, too. Justin Thompson, Camilo Potes, Nick Shaheen, and Charlie Grey. All taken by Atlanta, as though it were a giant monster in the night, stealing away with the comedy children I’d come to love so much. When I learned Charlie was moving to Atlanta, I mourned the loss of him. Not just because I will miss Charlie, but because I will miss the era that is now ending. It was sad to lose Justin, Camilo, and Nick. I miss them all. But the loss of Charlie feels like a tipping point.

Of course, I haven’t lost any of these people for good. Even if they’re no longer in my town doesn’t mean they’re no longer my friend. I still see all of these people, some of them pretty regularly. But it is not the same. Dr. Seuss says, “Don’t be sad that it’s over, smile because it happened.” I am struggling to follow Dr. Seuss’s advice. For a long time, I was eager for change. I wanted a new job, a new life. And then I got that new life. And I liked it a lot. Loved it, in fact. And suddenly, I am not so eager for change. Change is a lot harder when you’re letting go of something that was good.

For a lot of people reading this blog, this next part may sound strange, because it’s not about a person – it’s about a horse. In October, I met a black Thoroughbred gelding I dubbed Johnny. I’ve ridden horses my entire life. I started showing at age three. I’ve been fortunate enough to work at some elite level barns, took care of and rode horses who had been short-listed for the Olympics. I’ve owned and ridden some great horses, but Johnny was my favorite. He is an exceedingly special horse. He was exceedingly special to me. When I met him, he was for sale and he eventually sold to someone else. He sold to someone else because I failed to sell the books I’d spent months working on. They may yet sell somewhere else, but the influx of money I was hoping to receive is not coming anytime soon. The failure of those books to sell was a significant disappointment. This might sound odd, but my main sense of loss is tied up in losing out on Johnny.

In early January, I learned Mama Cat, my oldest pet, has cancer. She’s still hanging in there. She has very suddenly gone deaf and she gave up bathing herself, but her appetite is still good. Even so, I know the end that is inevitable for us all is much closer for her than it is for most. Mama Cat entered my life in 1999, when I was still in college. She was feral. Evan and I trapped her because we saw she was pregnant. She really domesticated quite nicely and she wound up having Little Bastard. She is a sweet, patient, tolerant cat. She is also symbolic of another era.

When I went out to Charleston to write, I did exactly that. It was a very productive trip in a lot of ways. Coming back has been hard. I instantly realized I needed to get out of this house that I’ve lived in for ten years now. Hindsight is 20/2o and I find myself looking back over some of my decisions of the last two years and thinking perhaps I made some mistakes. Evan and I engaged in what was essentially a slow motion divorce. Some aspects of that method were definitely beneficial, working out logistics on the other side of emotion is a good idea. But on the flip side, I still have an attic full of memorabilia that needs to be gone through. I see now the benefit of ripping the band-aid off and taking care of everything quickly, of getting it done and over with. In the slow motion divorce, you deal with it again and again. And again. And again.

It’s not that I wish I was still married. Truth is, every time Evan and I see each other it becomes increasingly bizarre to us we were ever married in the first place. The nice thing is we can laugh about it. When we were married, there were so many things left unsaid, so many personality traits stifled. Now that we are free to be wholly ourselves around one another, it’s kind like, “How did that happen?” I’d like to think we’re both pretty decent people, and as such we make pretty decent friends. In this, I am incredibly fortunate. And yet, despite all of this intellectual knowledge, this peaceable resolution, divorce still sucks. It is painful. The feeling of rejection runs deep. Believe it or not, this segues back to the horse. Johnny, it seemed to me, liked me. I get that there are a lot of people who like me, who even love me. But as I said before, Johnny was special. I have trust issues, and there were so many times that that horse, had he been a normal Thoroughbred, would have behaved badly. Instead, he was good and brave, which made me good and brave. It’s not supposed to go that way, you know. The rider is supposed to create confidence in the horse, not the other way around. In the end, everything that the rejection of divorce does, working with Johnny did the opposite of that. And all of a sudden I find myself surrounded by artifacts of that rejection, including this house. So now, I too am going. Not far away, but I am going.

Everybody is going or gone.

There have been times in this process where I handled things really well, where I was strong and felt the living peace of faith. Now is not one of those times. This has been a time of mourning, weeping, throwing things away, it has been a time to die, to tear down, to give up. I don’t like it and I don’t want it. I hate feeling weak. It is my least favorite feeling in the world. It brings out all the worst in me. But this is where I am, whether I like it or not. And change is coming, it is almost here. I know there will be times of planting, building, laughing, dancing. A time of rebirth. There is a season for every activity under Heaven.

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.”

(Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, NIV)

Predators

Yesterday was a bummer, man. On Friday, I’d gone to a comedy show. I’d invited a lot of friends to this show, coordinated a lot of efforts, entertained a lot of people while there. I love this sort of stuff and I am good at it. But it takes a good bit out of me. On Saturday, I was tired. It isn’t often that I feel this way, but what I wanted on Saturday was somebody to take care of me. Somebody I know well, somebody I am wholly comfortable with, somebody to make me food. But that wasn’t going to happen, so, I debated between staying in and watching movies, or going out. I decided to choose hope, and went out to the turn the day around. Hope looked back at me and said, “Nope. Not gonna happen.”

It would have been easier to turn an aircraft carrier around than my day. But this is life, my friends, not every day is going to be a winner. I am grateful that most of my days are pretty awesome. That said, yesterday I found myself going to Publix at 7:30pm to pick up two avocados, toothpaste, and a bottle of wine.

A few months ago, a video of a woman getting catcalled in NYC made big news. One of the things that struck me about the video was the woman’s posture. She was sort of curled up into herself. I felt her fear, her tentativeness, watching the video. Personally, I never get catcalled. It just doesn’t happen. And I’ll walk around New York for ten hours, through all kinds of neighborhoods. I generally go out into the world in one of two modes – totally shut down ice cold don’t-talk-to-me and completely game to make friends. I feel like I have control, the ability to click back and forth between these ways of being, depending on where my head’s at. In either mode, I do not perceive men as a threat in general. Sometimes my gut pops up to say “stay away” and I always listen to it, but fear just isn’t a part of my day-to-day life experience.

So there I was yesterday, feeling like a sad little monkey, in the nice Publix shopping center in West Ashley. Before getting my groceries I wanted to grab something from a side store. I walked past a man sitting on a bench. He asked me if I had a smoke, I said no and kept walking, but he didn’t stop talking. Instantly, I was disconcerted. On the way back to the Publix, to get my avocados, toothpaste and bottle of wine, I had to walk past him again. This time he got up from the bench, invaded my personal space, and followed me up to the door. I wanted to verbally confront him, but that guy picked me for a reason – I was already feeling defeated. I had no fight in me.

I said nothing, walked into Publix, instantly grabbed the store manager (who happened to be right there), and told him to kick the guy off the property. Which he did. I had no fight in me, but I certainly had the intellectual capacity to delegate that fight to somebody else.

I got my stuff, checked out and left. When I got to the parking lot, there was now an old black van with electric green stripes parked next to the driver’s side of my car. The man was sitting in the passenger side of the van, his hands and face pressed up against the window. He was laughing at me. If I could murder someone with a look, he would have been dead a thousand times before I drove away. As I left, he waved goodbye. Whoever was driving the van left at the same time I did, but they didn’t follow me.

In the movie Copycat, which I saw because it was about serial killers and had Sigourney Weaver in it, there’s this great line where Weaver says, “Don’t park next to vans.” In the movie, she’s a world famous expert on serial killers and famous author on the subject. She’s walking down a hallway, signing autographs on the move, and that’s what she says to a woman who asks for her autograph: “Don’t park next to vans.” Delivered as if she was saying, “Take care of yourself.” I thought about that as I drove away. Specifically, “What if the van parks next to you?” It’s like the zen koan of dealing with predators.

In conclusion, sometimes days and people are bad, but in the end, it’ll be fine. (That’s my paraphrase of Romans 5:2.)

New Year

St. Patrick’s Day, 2014. I was talking to Nick Shaheen on my front porch. I can’t remember what I was talking about, but I remember giving a lot of time-related mile markers. “That happened in October of 2005,” or whatever. Shaheen said, “Wow, you’re really obsessed with dates.”

Up until he told me that, I had no clue this was true. In fact, I thought the opposite. I have no memory for anniversaries. Actual dates don’t stick with me, just months or seasons. But recording the specific day isn’t necessary to be really obsessed with dates. And the thing is, numbers don’t mean much. Certainly not to me, who can’t do simple math, but also in terms of the calendar year. Just because you turn the page doesn’t mean things are going to change.

And yet, I find myself looking forward to 2015 like a dog watching her owner open a new can of tennis balls.

2014 has lasted roughly four regular years. I was trying to think back to my first visit to Simon & Schuster. Turns out – December of 2013. WHO WOULD HAVE GUESSED. You guys, that’s a year ago. It feels like four. In a way, a lot has happened in 2014. There’s been a lot of comedy and a lot of writing and even a good bit of production. I went to Los Angeles and New York, got to spend time with old friends and make new ones. I found Crossfit (need to refind it, you guys. Anybody know where it went? hahahahaha) and I started riding horses again, which has been awesome. But it’s been a year of waiting. Waiting on my divorce to be final. Waiting for Ruthless to come out. Waiting on collaborators. Waiting on myself to get new writing done.

2014 has been the Year of the Wait.

Yesterday, Evan and I did divorce paperwork stuff. (Quick plot cul-de-sac – we went to the notary for literary the 6th time and – once again – she didn’t know who we were. What is that? This isn’t over a long span of time, just two or three months. What’s up with this woman’s memory? Does she live in a perpetual state of Groundhog’s Day? Okay, sorry, plot dul-de-sac over.) ANYWAY – Evan and I grabbed lunch and, as is often the case, he was sort of taking a long time to wrap things up and I heard the little microwave *DING* that goes off in my head when I’m ready to move on. Evan could see it in my eyes. I said, “I get impatient. I like for the things to be doing.”

I like for the things to be doing.

You guys. In case any of you missed it, I’m a professional writer now. A master of the English language. And I like for the things to be doing. I really do, too. I like roller coasters. Not merry-go-rounds. 2014 has been long and sloggy and against my nature.

More importantly, 2014 has been a year of intense hardship for a lot of my best friends. While a lot of my waiting has been for joyful things like my book to come out, others have been waiting on things like test results. Others have waited for the worst part of grief to pass. I’ve been witness to a lot of suffering this year. There’s an inherent waiting involved in that experience, too. We say, “this too shall pass” for a reason. We are waiting for a brighter day. In a sense, we never stop waiting, because we don’t arrive at our destination until the day we die.

But there are years where you sell your first book and go to New York City for the first time and go back to Los Angeles and reunite with friends you haven’t seen in more than ten years and learn how to just float in a lake and have fun and take up stand-up comedy and finally find your tribe and none of it feels like waiting, because instead you’re wholly in the present, because the present is alive with the new. Of course, every year can’t be 2013. Sometimes, instead, your year is 2014 and all you can do is wait.